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The Reversals Of And Within Community In Sula Essay, Research Paper

The setting of Sula takes place in the rich, fertile hills of Medallion, a small, valley town in Ohio. The residents of this town refer to these hills, where the Blacks resided, as the Bottom. Morrison uses the first four pages of the novel to provide the reader with a general knowledge of the town of Medallion and the history of the Bottom. Its name originated from an old joke in which a white farmer gave a slave a piece of land in the hills and freedom in exchange for performing some difficult tasks. The farmer says that this land is bottom land because ” when God looks down, it’s the bottom. That’s why we call it so. It’s the bottom of heaven – the best land there is”(Morrison 5). Since the whites resided in the rich-soiled valley, the Blacks were forced to live on the land that was difficult to farm “up in the Bottom”(5). The roles of position, top and bottom, are reversed; the Bottom of Medallion was not located at the lowest part of the town, but high up in the hills. This reversal of the status of black and white and top and bottom is used as an introduction of a theme of reversals that will continue to be evident throughout the course of the diegesis. If we use the context of the Bottom to describe the relationship of the community as a whole, this reversal can serve as a model for reversals of the members of the community and within the community itself. Because of occurring appearances of these reversals, the reader is forced to re-evaluate the true meanings of the oppositions that institute the reversals, particularly within the community. The history of the Bottom represents a reversal of the entire community of Medallion. In this section of the novel, another scene, describing life particularly in the Bottom, can be analyzed in order to denote a reversal deeper inside the community of Medallion. While the narrator talks about how things were in the Bottom, we are given a scene where a valley man, who usually comes to the Bottom to collect insurance payments and rent, observes the happiness that is being displayed by the blacks that live there. A person can go to the Bottom and hear people singing and a woman dancing and those who were watching would laugh in enjoyment. By applying Geertz’s concept of “thick” description to this scene, the reader is informed that by observation only, the valley man sees happiness and joy in the lives and hearts of the black people because of what is being displayed to him through the singing, dancing, and laughter. But only by interpretation would the valley man be able to realize that the happiness that he sees in the faces of the black people is only a thin description, or “surface” description, of what is really being shown. Thin description allows the valley man to see only the laughter and not the pain that is truly felt, but hidden. By interpretation of the scene by Morrison, the reader is able to see that ” the laughter was part of the pain”(4). The blacks used this laughter to take the place of the pain that was being felt and denied existence, or repressed. On the outside, the white man sees joy, but because the opposition of joy, pain, is really what is being experienced, the roles of joy and pain, can be reversed, by which the black people can feel pain on the inside.Looking deeper into the community of the Bottom shows the reader in-depth reversals that play a major role in the life of a particular member of the Bottom community, Sula. After the community finds out about Sula sleeping with Nel’s husband, Jude, everyone regarded Sula as evil and did everything they could to keep her from affecting their lives and the lives of their spouses and children. Morrison uses a particular scene to discuss Sula’s thoughts of her being an outcast due to her sexual involvement. This scene goes on to explain to the reader that Sula knows that she is considered evil to everyone in the community because of her promiscuity. Sula knew that she slept with men whenever she felt the need to, but she did not think that it was something to be seen as evil. It was done for self-satisfaction; she was promiscuous because ” it was the only place where she could find what she was looking for: misery and the ability to feel deep sorrow”(122). Morrison explains that Sula used to regard sex as a creation of joy. She enjoyed it and laughed through it at times. But, now, she found wickedness in lovemaking. While her partner may have found that lovemaking was wonderful and beautiful, she felt “an eye of sorrow in the midst of all that hurricane rage of joy”(123). Joy is all around her during sex, but inside she only feels loneliness and sorrow. This discussion parallels the reversal between laughter and pain that is shown at the beginning of the novel. Again, there is a repression of the joy that is supposed to be felt and is displayed by its opposition, pain. What seems like joy, or should be joy, continues to be pain and sorrow and this is due to the reversals of oppositions that are being portrayed throughout the novel.

Morrison continues to link Sula’s feelings of sorrow and pain to the reversal of laughter and pain introduced at the beginning of the novel. The sex scene involving Sula and Ajax emphasizes the thoughts that Sula is feeling while she is having sex with Ajax. As she looks at his face, she thinks that if she can scrub his face really hard with a chamois, she will see gold shining under the black because she knows its there. She goes on to say that if she takes a nail file or Eva’s paring knife and scrapes the gold away, then there will be alabaster, a white-colored cement. After this, she says that she can chisel away at the alabaster and she will see the fertile, pebble-free loam. She wants to run her fingers through the soil, but she realizes that she must keep it moist and wonders when will it turn to mud. This progression through the different colors parallels, yet reverses, the earlier scene involving laughter and pain because the white was on the outside observing joy and the black was on the inside experiencing pain. However, in this scene, Sula begins by scrubbing away at the black that was on the outside and goes to alabaster, or white, that is on the inside. This transition represents the joy she wanted to turn into sorrow, where the black represented joy and the white represented sorrow. The difference between this scene and the beginning scene is that the transition that Sula makes from black to white, or joy to sorrow, does not stop when she reaches the white-colored alabaster. Sula continues to chip away at the alabaster to reach a brown-colored loam. She wants to make sure that she keeps the loam rich and moist, but she also wonders when will the water and loam make mud, which represents black. The reversal of laughter and pain in this scene is now threatened because she no longer exists at sorrow, but transcends back to the black that represents joy. Because this reversal is reversed, the reader must re-evaluate the real meanings behind the oppositions in the novel and how these meanings will affect the community and Sula. Sula feels that lovemaking brings her sorrow, but in the sex scene involving Ajax, she goes from ridding herself from joy to bringing it back to the surface. This transition causes the reader to consider that Sula really wants joy from the sorrow that she feels. This causes a reversal of our initial judgement that joy represents pain that has been repressed. By chipping away at the alabaster to see loam and watering it to make mud, Sula makes the reader believe that pain represents the actual joy that she feels that is being repressed. If the initial relationship between joy and pain can be reversed, this allows you to question the stability of other relationships in the novel. One such relationship is the relationship between good and evil. Morrison implies that the community that ostracizes Sula represents good and Sula represents evil. By reversing this relationship, we are able to determine that Sula may represent good and the community represents evil. Sula goes to the trouble of reversing the sorrow she feels into joy because she feels that she is being judged wrong. She does not feel that what she does is wrong or evil, but that she is satisfying the loss and loneliness that she feels inside of her. This loss may be due to the love not shown to her by her mother, the death of her mother, or Nel’s marriage to Jude and the loss of their friendship. Therefore, the community can be seen as evil because of their judgements against her when her intentions are not that of evil or corruption.


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